Car2go, the by-the-minute car-sharing service, is swapping out about ten percent of its trademark Smart two-seaters that have become common sights on DC streets since 2012 for Mercedes-Benz sedans. As many as 75 CLA-class sedans and GLA-class crossover-utility vehicles will be placed around Washington and Arlington for the company’s members to rent.
Blaire Kniffin, a spokeswoman for Austin, Texas-based Car2go—which is owned by Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler—tells Washingtonian that the introduction of bigger and more-upscale vehicles comes after years of customer requests for a fleet capable of carrying more than just two people and a few grocery bags. The Mercedes vehicles may also satisfy customers who want to impress their passengers with something flashier than the nine-foot-long Smart fortwo cars in their blue-and-white livery.
Since launching in DC in 2012 and Arlington in 2015, Car2go has become a fixture in how increasingly car-free residents get around their city. The company’s Smart cars can be frequently spotted in DC’s busiest neighborhoods, especially Georgetown, Petworth, and U Street, but Car2go concedes the two-seaters can feel a bit limiting.
DC is one of six cities where Car2go will add the Mercedes-Benzes to its fleets; the others are Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Austin; Toronto; and Vancouver. (The company tested Mercedes lineups in three Canadian cities in 2016.)
The Mercedes models are indeed much more fun to drive than the Smarts, with bigger engines, nimble handling, and brakes that can kick in autonomously at speeds up to 65 miles per hour—along with all the expected interior trimmings that go along with the brand. (The cars are also painted black, white, or silver with the Car2go logo etched on the doors, making for a much more sedate exterior.) They’ll cost 45 cents per minute to rent, 4 cents more than the 41 cents per minute Car2go charges for its standard fleet. There are a few other product tweaks: the company is doing away with member cards and will facilitate all rentals through its mobile app and website, and in the CLAs and GLAs, drivers will find the keys inside the glove compartment instead of the center console.
But in swapping out some of the Smarts for full-sized sedans—however luxurious—Car2go is also making a play to have an even greater impact on how we think about urban mobility.
In the four-plus years since it entered the DC market, Car2go has had a measurable effect in reducing the overall number of personal vehicles on the roads. A study published last July by the University of California, Berkeley found that Car2go members in Washington either sold or stopped using 4,608 personal cars. In other words, for every Smart fortwo Car2go put into service, as many as eight personal vehicles were taken out of commission. Driving around downtown DC in a white GLA last Friday, general manager Aaron Landry said he expects the availability of full-sized cars to heighten that effect. Car2go plans to market the Mercedes-Benzes toward two-car households that are considering unloading one of their vehicles, and toward members with families who may want to eschew car ownership, but might still need to ferry their kids around.
Car2go has also reported increased usage since the beginning of Metro’s SafeTrack maintenance agenda. The company reported a 22 percent increase in members in the first three months of SafeTrack, and now counts 59,000 Washington-area users. The first 25 Mercedes the company is adding to its DC fleet will be available Monday, with the remainder to be added by the end of February.